[License-discuss] dual licensing and the Open Source Definition

zgilboa at culturestrings.org zgilboa at culturestrings.org
Fri Dec 13 19:46:10 UTC 2013

> -------- Original Message -------- Subject: Re: [License-discuss]
> dual licensing and the Open Source Definition From: Ben Tilly
> <btilly at gmail.com> Date: Fri, December 13, 2013 8:33 am To: License
> Discuss <license-discuss at opensource.org>
> Your fundamental confusion is that you don't understand how dual 
> licensing works.
> A license gives you a set of terms under which you are allowed to do 
> something that you would not be allowed to do without the license. 
> Dual licensing is the situation where you have a potential choice of 
> licenses.

How dual licensing works is clear; my issue pertains much more to what a
specific license, or licensing system, is meant to achieve.  I never
suggested that dual licensing was problematic in and of itself, only
that some aspects of it were against the spirit of the OSD as I
understood it.

> All cases where you can "buy out" of a GPL license are dual
> licensing situations. The company owns the copyright to the license,
> and gives you a choice of an open source license for free, or a
> commercial license for money. There is nothing in the GPL saying that
> you can do this, and there is nothing you could put in the GPL saying
> that you could not do this either. The GPL is popular for this
> purpose because it is both well-understood, and inconvenient for many
> commercial purposes. (So there is incentive to "purchase the upgrade"
> to a commercial license.)

Here, too, my issue is with the idea that an effective open source
license needs to be "upgraded" in order for software to become
profitable for its copyright holder, or convenient for the vendors of
commercial software that would like to use it.  I am also not sure that
a license that allows the modified source of a library to no longer be
available is an "upgrade" to begin with, but that is of course subject
to interpretation.

> With that cleared up, here are the answers to your questions.
> 1) The GPL is perfectly fine under the OSD.
> 2) No license with the kind of conditions that you want would
> qualify as open source.
> On Thu, Dec 12, 2013 at 1:46 PM, <zgilboa at culturestrings.org> wrote:
>> Greetings,
>> As per the Open Source Definition, commercial use of Open Source
>> software must be permitted, yet "the license shall not require a
>> royalty or other fee for such sale."
>> One interesting side-effect of the above is that software can be
>> released under a strong copyleft license, for instance the GPL, and
>> yet be accompanied by the option to "buy one's way out of the
>> license," thereby releasing the buyer from any and all obligation
>> to make the modified source available to the public. For a possible
>> real-life example please see the cygwin project, and specifically
>> the clause concerning the project license (found under "Cygwin
>> License Contract" at http://www.redhat.com/services/custom/cygwin/,
>> and mentioned here for illustration purposes only).
>> In light of the above, and given the guarantee of the Open Source
>> Definition with respect to source availability and fields of
>> endeavor, a couple of questions arise:
>> 1) to what extent does the GPL meet the OSI promise regarding the
>> source of Open Source Software remaining open? After all, if
>> vendors can take GPL'ed software and buy their way out of the
>> license so that binaries, with or without changes, can be
>> distributed without restriction and without a corresponding source,
>> then something is probably not working the way it was originally
>> intended.
>> 2) Consider the case of an individual entrepreneur who created a
>> software library, and who would like to require vendors of
>> commercial products that _depend_ on that library to pay a
>> _one-time fee_, but otherwise be permitted to use the library or
>> distribute it in any way they see fit without additional charges,
>> and provided that the original source code, along with all changes
>> that were applied to it, remain available to the public. Would that
>> author be able to release his/her library under an OSI-approved 
>> license? Having gone through the various licenses on the site, I
>> was unable to identify a single license that adequately meets this
>> scenario.
>> I believe that (2) could be of interest to independent developers
>> who either prefer not to, or are unable to rely on voluntary
>> donations for the continuing development of their projects. Then
>> again, it seems to me that the possibility to regulate one-time
>> charges for commercial use from _within_ a license should be much
>> preferred over a de facto option to bypass the license altogether.
>> Ultimately, then, the purpose of this post is to discuss, and
>> hopefully find out, whether a license can be written with the above
>> scenario in mind, and yet remain in compliance with the Open
>> Source Definition.
>> Looking forward to your thoughts, z. gilboa
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